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Gibson writes: "Do you want a higher minimum wage? Free childcare? Universal healthcare? A free college education? Then vote for politicians who support those things, and vote out those who don't."

(photo: Shutterstock)
(photo: Shutterstock)

How Voting in Large Numbers Dramatically Improves Society

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

21 October 14


o you want a higher minimum wage? Free childcare? Universal healthcare? A free college education? Then vote for politicians who support those things, and vote out those who don’t. It may not seem that simple, but if enough people adhere to this strategy with the patience of several more elections, all those things will happen here. Denmark has proven that to the world by having a model society made possible by a consistently high voter turnout rate. The last election in Denmark brought out 87 percent of the population. To compare, the 2012 presidential election only saw a 57 percent turnout of registered voters in the U.S.

I wrote a column earlier this month, called “The Election Is a Month Away. Fucking. Vote.” I laid out my case for voting this year to reject a culture of gridlock and corruption, but some still argued that a vote for any candidate was a vote for a rigged system, and that even if decent politicians were to be elected, they would be hamstrung by other members of their legislative body. Others chastised me for swearing at people in my headline and making people feel bullied into voting. So instead of my trying to intimidate you into voting, just take a look at Denmark’s quality of life, which is made possible by a consistently high voter turnout.

The minimum wage in Denmark is $21 an hour, and McDonald’s workers make enough to provide for their families and even have enough left over to save for retirement. This isn’t because McDonald’s has incredibly nice franchise owners in Denmark, but because a unionized workforce demanded it. Thanks to the union negotiating on behalf of workers, McDonald’s employees in Denmark also enjoy paid vacations, guaranteed overtime pay, and two days off per week. Compare that to the U.S., where the minimum wage is still $7.25 for most McDonald’s workers. Even in Seattle, which has the highest minimum wage in the country at $15 an hour, McDonald’s employees are still making a full six dollars less per hour than their Danish counterparts.

There’s a growing movement in the U.S. to guarantee all fast-food and retail workers a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to organize a union. President Obama even acknowledged the efforts of these workers and applauded their efforts to fight for a living wage. If we were to demand that all candidates asking for our vote support $15 and a union, and if we voted out all the ones who didn’t, fast-food workers here could enjoy the same pay and benefits as the workers in Denmark. And the American people largely support it – Chicago voters overwhelmingly support a $15 an hour minimum wage by an 87 to 13 margin. And as of this past June, 70 percent of Americans support increasing the minimum wage to at least $10.10 an hour. If all of those Americans voted for candidates who supported a higher minimum wage, it would happen quickly.

Danes also enjoy free college, in which higher education is seen as a basic right and is funded with tax dollars. Two of the world’s top 100 universities are also in Denmark. Compare that to America, where students are expected to take on decades’ worth of debt to get a college education, just for the chance to have a good job that pays, say, $21 an hour. And to pay off this debt, students then have to work jobs in a field that’s likely outside the field they studied. The student debt bubble in America has surpassed the $1.2 trillion mark, and many students are putting off traditional life milestones, like marriage, home ownership, and child-rearing. Our government already spends some $69 billion on student aid of some sort. By spending just $62 billion, public universities, which educate about 76 percent of American college students, could be completely tuition-free. All we need to do is elect people to office who promise to do this, and vote in large numbers.

Speaking of child rearing, Denmark’s government recognizes the economic burden of providing daycare for children of working parents, and provides it free of charge to all taxpayers. With an abnormally low birthrate, Denmark was weighing the possibility of cutting the budget for local nurseries. The free daycare initiative started in 2012 as an incentive to get more parents to have babies. A similar program in the U.S. could help ease the burden on working parents who do not have the financial means to hire a full-time sitter or pay for daycare. All we need to do is elect politicians who promise to do everything they can to make sure mothers and fathers with full-time jobs don’t have to worry about the additional expense of daycare.

Additionally, Denmark views healthcare as a human right for all citizens. Prescription medication is free for all Danes under the age of 18, and extremely affordable for adults. Everyone can choose his own doctor, and patient satisfaction with the Danish healthcare system is much higher than in the U.S. Our healthcare system was rated as the most expensive and inefficient by the World Health Organization, and even though the Affordable Care Act successfully expanded Medicaid to middle-class families and made health insurance more affordable for several million Americans, it’s still captive to the for-profit healthcare industry. Denmark spends just 11 percent of its GDP on healthcare, while healthcare costs sucks up 18 percent of the U.S. economy. If we want better healthcare, we have to hold candidates to the promise of fighting for universal health care, or at the very least, a public option like Medicare for all.

It should be obvious that if we want the society that most Americans polled want – universal healthcare, free college, free childcare, and a $21 an hour minimum wage – all we need to do is elect politicians who stand for these things. It may seem impossible now, but look at how far we’ve come as a society in a relatively short amount of time. Before we abolished slavery it would have seemed impossible that, 150 years later, we would re-elect the first black president of the United States. At the turn of the 20th century, it seemed impossible that women would be able to vote. Now, Hillary Clinton is being talked about as a potential front-runner in the 2016 elections. All we need to do is muster the willpower to get the social reforms we deserve.

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

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